Sugary sweets behind rise in toddler tooth decay.


by Jean Enersen

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Posted on September 27, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 27 at 3:11 PM

It was no ordinary trip to the dentist for four year old Ethan. He arrived recently at theCenter for Pediatric Dentistry to receive major repairs on his baby teeth. His mother indicated she hadn't made brushing teeth a priority. She hadn't realized the extent of his tooth decay.

"I was trying to get him to eat something. And he said, no, it's going to hurt my owie," said Crystal Nelson.

"Ok, breathe in there," Nelson reassured her son as he breathed into the anesthesia delivery cone that would put him under.

Ethan needed to go under general anesthesia due to the number of affected teeth his dentist would fix.  By the end of surgery he would have eight crowns on his baby teeth.

"I've told Ethan, this is not your fault. You know, you do a great job. You listen well. Mommy needed to do a better job at this," said Crystal Nelson.

Ethan's mother is far from the only parent feeling the guilt.

"A lot of parents aren't aware of how severe a cavity can become," explained Dr. Travis Nelson DDS, MSD, no relation to the patient's family. He is Acting Assistant Professor with the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington

"If it becomes an infection that is so close to their brain, it can be something that can actually kill a child," Dr. Nelson explained.

Kids Ethan's age often don't tell parents about tooth pain, even if tooth decay is severe. His two month wait for surgery at The Center for Pediatric Dentistry was shorter than what's typical at many children's hospitals across the country. Experts say fluoride can't overcome a sugary diet that's often seen in preschool patients.

"Children who eat and drink things that are sweet, particularly on a regular basis, are at much higher risk for getting cavities. Children who have a sippy cup or a bottle throughout the day or who sleep with it can be at very very high risk for getting that pattern of decay," said Dr. Nelson.

Ethan's mother said she's had to make some changes.

"He was just kind of snacking all day not eating meals you know, and way too much just junk food," she said.

They are all things an early dental visit would address with parents.

"If we see children before their first birthday, we can work on strategies with parents, to help make sure their children never get cavities," Dr. Nelson said.

In Ethan's household there's a commitment, to brushing twice a day.

"It's not much time out of your day to not be down here with your child asleep, having much work done," Crystal Nelson said.

We checked in with the family after the surgery. They report that Ethan is loving his new smile and that recently he was the first one up to the dinner table, another first they said.

The Center for Pediatric Dentistry treats kids from infancy to age 18 and all types of insurance are welcome. The Center has been open just a year. It's  a joint partnership between the University of Washington and Seattle Children's.

Delta Dental's Washington Dental Service Foundation has more information for parents who want access to baby and child dentistry options.